Designer: Aureliano Buonfino, Andrea Crespi, Lorenzo Silva, Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino
Publisher: Cranio Creations
Duration: 30 minutes/player
Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
The race to the moon and the lunar landing missions were events able to catalyze the attention of world media for many years. Unlucky it was before the era of modern boardgames and it seems that this topics hasn’t be able to excite designers and publishers fantasies until this year when the whole Cranio Creations crew decided to open a new era of Lunar missions.
For a strange coincidence Neil Armstrong, the first man landing on the moon, left the earth for his last voyage this year so 1969 seems a great present to his memory.
1969 is a real german games with a well working mechanic, a good connection with the theme and a bit of randomness in mission tests rolls and Intelligence Cards draw.
Up to 5 players compete in the race for the space from 1963 to 1967, completing missions. Actually been able to accomplish the great lunar landing mission (Moon Mission in the game) is not necessary to win the game but it really grants so many prestige points (victory points) that it is almost impossible to ignore it.
To have an idea of what I’m telling you I go into the details: the game is played in 7 turns and each turn a player can complete just one mission: normal missions bring 5, 10 or 15 victory points, the Moon Mission 35.
In the beginning of the game each player select just one nation (Canada, German, URSS, France and USA) and take a rocket, 8 flags his two research sheets, than the game begin.
During the game you will get money to acquire scientists (cubes) of different kinds, allocating on research boxes that confer different bonus that helps you in better completing missions that give you prestige points. The one with more prestige points in the end wins. The winner usually is the player able to find a good strategy to better manage his money hiring the right scientists and placing in the right places to complete the mission. The interaction between players is only in the use of intelligence cards and spies: it apparently seems small but, for my experience, is usually much more important than the random factor in the test mission dice rolling.
The round has a classic structure: each player, in clockwise order, complete all the actions in a phase before passing to the next phase and the first player runs clockwise at the end of each round. The actions/phase are quick and there is no real need to spend too much time in brain consuming activities. That doesn’t mean that the game is shallow but the decisions in each phase are not excessive and actually you can plan your actions during other player phases.
The first phase is the income phase: each round all players get money starting from 12M in the first round up to 18M in the final round. You can preserve your money from round to round and you can spend 1 prestige points (victory points) to get 2M. You can make this just once every round in the first two rounds, twice in the next three round and finally 3 times in the last two rounds. Actually it is a common action since the difference between a rookie scientist and a basic scientist is just 2M (and having a rookie will make you loose 2 prestige points) and the difference between a basic and famous scientist give you 3 prestige points and cost just 4M.
In the second phase players, in turn order, will hire scientists and buy intelligence cards. Scientists are placed on research sheets (maximum 2 scientists in each research box) and cards are used in completing missions. Money are just tie breakers in the end so you really need to use your money during the game.
There are two kinds of research boxes: general researches, that give you bonus during the game, and specific researches that will give you each a bonus in completing 3 different missions and the Moon Mission. Basic, Rookie and Famous Scientists all counts as 1 researcher, Genious scientists as 2. In the end you will earn 3 Prestige Points for each famous and loose 2 for each rookie. Spy are great because you place it on others players research boxes and give you a bonus token that count as one researcher without using one of the two slots.
The amount of scientists is limited: 40 basic and each of all the other 4 kinds. In a 4-5 players games it is not uncommon that special scientists (especially spies and famous) end and so you have to include this possibility planning your strategy. This seldom happens with 3 and 2 players.
Of course this is the most time/brain consuming phase but actually you can hire 2-3 scientists each round so it is not too bad. You can also buy random Intelligence cards for 2M each. There are 19 1s, 13 2s and 7 3s. Than it is time to run mission tests. Each round you can make a single mission test and you can’t make the same mission twice, There is actually no reason, according to my plays, to skip this phase apart for real particular situation since the 5 cheapest missions cost just 4M. Completing missions will give you prestige points and, in case of success, helps you in the great Moon Mission.
Each mission has a cost (ranging from 4M to basic mission up to 10M for Moon Mission) and a track of prestige points (5 spaces up to 5 prestige points in the basic missions, 8 spaces up to 10 in the medium, 11 spaces up to 15 in the top missions and 20 spaces up to 35 prestige points for the Moon Mission)
In the third phase you just select the mission, roll the 5 test dice, apply all the modifiers/bonus and get a result.
The dice have 3 green success faces, two blue neutral faces and just one red failure phace. The result of the test, the space you will advance on the mission track, is the total of successes minus failures. Any movement over the last space is lost. After that players can play secretly any number of Intelligence Cards to alter the result, starting from the player to your left up to you. You subtract from the total value of other players cards to the total of the cards played by you and move the rocket up (or down) this amount of space in the mission track. In the 10 and 15 points mission you need two points to move each space and in the Moon Mission three.
In the first plays we undervalued the importance of the intelligence cards but the fact that are played AFTER the result of the dice and bonus are applied make a big difference. After you place a flag in the mission to mark it as already done for you. If you get the best possible result in the mission you can also advance your flag a space in the great Moon Mission. Each flag already in the mission will reduce your score for that mission one point.
The core of the game are the research boxes. The 6 specific technologies are all the same: each one give you a bonus in one easy mission (6 missions each one related to one technology), in one of the three medium mission (each one has two technologies), in one of the two top mission (each one with three technologies) and in the Moon Mission. The designers got good idea to diversificate so the same two technologies are never side by side both in the medium and top mission. The usual strategies is to just develop 1 specific technology to the best and also other 1-2 as much as possible to have a good starting point for top and Moon Mission.
The 6 general researches are all interesting and run from robotics (2M reduction for the first hired scientist each round for each researcher) to investors (2M discounts to mission costs) to Simulation and Ground Control that can alter the results of tests.
I have played the game four times with 5, 3 and 2 players and I really liked it. The 30 minutes/player duration seems to me real oversized but with 5 players the game tooks us close to 2 hours. A two players game with people knowing the rules is close to 30-40 minutes.
I really liked 1969 and I think that the randomness in the test results is not an issue: of course if your opponents always get 5 success and you run between 2 and 3 in all the test it is disappointing but I’m not a real fan of the pure german school and I really like titles were random and luck is a factor to consider and face.
In my preview copy I also got a small extension with a new research box you can, if you like, place on your research sheet replacing one of the 6 general strategy. I have not got time to test it but it really open the road to an huge amount of small expansions going in the direction of personalized research sheets (something close to what offers the Kingsburg expansion).
So, in my opinion, a nice and fun game. It will survive to the huge amount of Essen release ? It will be able to compete with the other long awaited titles ? I think it will. I’m happy to have got the possibility to play it before Essen and to have lready my copy on my desk!
Until the 29 there is a special promo on Cranio Creation web site preordering the game
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I love it!: Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
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